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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Boss Install: Black Diamond Anamorphic

Posted on August 28, 2012 at 5:30 PM

It’s no secret that I love anamorphic front projection systems. (For a thorough primer on what an anamorphic front projection system is, why it is so wicked-awesome and to see how it affects the video frame, click this link.)

There have been three principal reasons making it difficult to pull off anamorphic installs in the real world.  The first two reasons primarily have to do with cost. First you had the cost of the anamorphic lens itself and then the motorized sled system. These guys are most commonly supplied by Panamorph (the model I have) and Schneider (the more luxury version) and often add $10-15 THOUSAND to the cost of the projector itself.

Besides the cost of the lens, there is a look issue. The lens is a giant proboscis that extends in an ungainly manner in front of the projector, making something that was kind of sleek and cool like kind of clunky and cobbled together. Here’s a pick of my projector and lens system:

The second cost prohibitive item is that you ideally want a masking system for your projection screen. This means that when you are not using the full area of the screen, it is masked off with black material so you don’t see a bunch of distracting, contrast-killing white right next to the image. This motorized masking can add more thousands to the cost of the screen system.

Finally, you have a real-estate issue. Doing anamorphic requires a bigger (wider) screen to insure that you don’t have too small of a 16x9 image. (My screen, for instance, is 92-inch diagonal in 16x9 and 115-inch diagonal in 2.35.) That requires a wider opening on the front wall.

So, at this past CEDIA, I discovered the perfect storm of technologies to pull off anamorphic projection at a much lower cost. JVC was demonstrating their latest slate of video projectors that featured a new option called Lens Memory. With lens memory, you could zoom, focus, adjust the projector’s lens to make a perfect 16x9 image and then zoom out, refocus, readjust the projector’s lens to make a perfect 2.35 image.

Technically, you would be “spilling” image above the top and bottom of the screen, but because this is black bars – and the JVC makes such a black-black – this would be unnoticeable in most instances.

Also at CEDIA I took a look at the Black Diamond Screen by Screen Innovations. This screen material is black. As in not white. But black. Probably why they call it Black Diamond. So, when the lights are off and there is nothing being projected onto the screen, it is completely black and invisible. This eliminates the need for any masking.

So, this addresses issues one and two of the high cost of anamorphic. The only issue left is having enough real-estate left over to make this magic happen…

(pregnant pause...)

The other day I went out to spec in a job. The new owner had purchased a house that the previous owners set up the typical bonus room over garage. They had had a 60-inch flat panel on the wall, but he was interested in something more theatrical. He called Geek Squad out first and the guy told him that there’s no way he’d do projection. Nope, just mount a new 80-inch flat panel on the wall and be done with it, simple as pie! When I got there I immediately said that the room was *begging* for projection. Perfect dedicated space, one door into the room and a single (easily shaded) window. Plus the room already had a 3-tier riser for heaven’s sake! I started telling him all the things I’d do if it were my room, and when I left, I had the go-ahead for a $30,000 install! (Boosh!)

The room has angled walls in the front and back of the room, and because of the riser and seats that he’d already selected, sightlines were a giant issue. I came up with the idea of recessing the projector into the attic as it would A) get the projector out of the room, B) eliminate it hanging low over anyone’s head, C) keep fan noise down and D) look cool as hell. Unfortunately the back wall of the room was where two roof lines converged and there were engineered trusses right where we would have ideally cut in the projector. (And despite the fact that the homeowner said, "Just cut them out. I don't care!" we decided to NOT just cut them out and risk the roof sagging down the road.)

First, I had my lead installer, Tom, build us a box. It is fully sealed in the attic side, with a fan-vent cut in on the bottom/front of the unit. Also, the front of the box is help in by magnetic latches so we can remove it for easy servicing of the lamp if need be. (The homeowner said he wanted to paint the box black. Why he didn’t want us to do it, I can’t say...)


After cutting out the trusses and jacking in new supports in the attic, the box was installed as high up as we could and then braced it in. An Active Thermal Management fan system sucks cool air from the theater and then vents the hot air out of the box into the attic. (Though, being that it was like a million degrees in that attic, I'm thinking that the super-heated projector-vented air might actual cool the attic space a bit.)

Here’s a pic of the box from the room, with the projector installed. (It’s killing me that that thing is painted primer-white. Please, I’m begging all of you to just imagine that it’s black… Do me this one solid.) Also shown are the two Def Tech surround back channels.

One of the client’s requests was for the electronics to be in the back corner of the room. Since the risers extended to within a foot of the side wall, this meant wall-mounting a rack. We went with a Middle Atlantic wall-mount rack EWR-12-22. This let us secure the gear to the wall and swing out the rack to service it. Bonus. Also visible are the Defintive Technology Mythos Gem-XL side and surround back speakers.

Here’s a pic of the gear racked in, a Denon AVR-3313 receiver, Sony Blu-ray, Panamax surge protection, URC MRF base station and his cable box.

Even the front wall posed an issue. Normally, you’d mount a screen flat to the wall, but because of the sloping ceiling and the tiered seating, if we mounting this screen to the front wall, the back rows wouldn’t be able to see the bottom quarter of the screen. (Sightlines, people, you gotta remember to factor in your sightlines!) The solution was to mount the screen to the angled slope of the ceiling.

Also visible are the two Defintive Technology Super Cube 6000 subs, the Mythos ST towers and the Mythos 10 center channel mounted oh-so-slickly from the bottom of the screen frame.

My installers came up with a very cool way of blocking the top of the angled wall to be able to attach the screen, and it looks like it is just floating in space. From the back, they braced it with some 2x4s painted the wall color. This provided rigidity for the floating screen and also enough for us to mount the center to below the screen.

Here’s a pic of the screen with the lights mostly off. (Replaced his two switches with URC dimmers that tie in perfectly with the MX-980 remote!) You can see how the screen fades to total black.

And another shot of the front of the room from the right side.

Bass with the two subs is tight and deep and pretty even across the three rows of seats. The picture is bright and looks great, and the lens memory – while a good bit slower than a motorized lens sled – seems to be doing exactly what we wanted. I promised the homeowner a killer home theater experience, and think it’s what we delivered.

Categories: August 2012, CTA, Movies

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